Business Brains

E-readers don't have to spell the doom of books

Posting in Technology

Instead of bemoaning the digital revolution, some publishers are exploring logical integrations between print and e-books.

Someone proclaimed to me at one of the holiday parties I attended over the past weekend that "real" books would be gone within 10 years, taking out the last of the independent bookstores that have managed to survive the book retailer and Amazon.com onslaught.

Because he knows I am a technophile, he expected me to agree with his comment outright, but somehow I couldn't. I believe that the independent book stores that I frequent have survived because they have a special connection to authors, who use them to launch new titles, or because they cater to special genres, such as mysteries.

Imagine my pleasure, therefore, to stumble across an article in the New York Times Bits blog on Christmas, heralding the arrival of a concept that could be described as "hybrid books." These are books that combine the best of electronic and print formats, and it is the target market of a publishing firm called Melville House.

Melville believes that there is a market for what it calls HybridBooks that straddle the worlds of e-books and "old-fashioned" books. (My quote marks, not theirs.) The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company has begun publishing paperbacks that include just the text of original classics by authors like Conrad, Chekov or Casanova. Each books is accompanied by a digital "publication" of tons of extra materials that pertain to the novel or novella. These components are accessed by using a QR scanning code or by visiting a special URL contained in the back of the book.

The owner of Melville House, Dennis Loy Johnson, told The New York Times:

"Basically we wanted to mimic our own reading process. When I read a great classic, if I like it, I want the experience to somehow continue, so I will pursue more information about the writer, or the setting, or some aspect of the plot's background. ... My mind wanders, imagining what the world of the book looked like. And so on."

Another great example of a marriage of the print and digital book worlds is the LeapFrog Tag Reading System. The technology combined colorful, well-illustrated children's book with a digital pen. As you page through the book, you tap the pen to have the text "read." It is billed as a way to help children start making the linking between the written and spoken word. And it wouldn't be possible without both formats. I have seen this system in action with my niece and nephew, who actually fight more over reading than they do over who has control of the television remote control.

Will hybrid books save the idea of print books or, at least, of certain print editions?

Last time I checked, I still had to turn off my e-reader during certain portions of airplane flights, so I'm guessing that at least the airport paperback business is still thriving to get people through the roughly 45 minutes on every flight when you are forbidden from touching the "on" switch. And, my niece and nephew still have dozens of books on the shelves in their bedrooms that are highly conducive to a pre-bed read and snuggle. Snuggling with an e-reader still isn't as much fun.

Will there be fewer books printed in the future? Sure, but I believe the ones that ARE printed will be in high demand by people who understand their true value. Publishers like LeapFrog and Melville House have got it right, and more mainstream publishers would do well to explore more integration between their electronic and print catalogs.

via: New York Times

Share this

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure